They’ve been around for a very long time, as far back as the early 14th century! Then they were called ekenames. Eke meaning also or in addition. At some point ekenames morphed into nekenames then became what we know as nicknames. A few that I’ve had over the years include: SharBear, Bellhead and PenWiz.
From my journal: July 2, 1985 visiting Pittsfield, MA
“Met my sister’s boyfriend today…surprised when he called me Shari! How funny…I forget my family still calls me that!”
Although my given first name, the one that appears on my birth certificate is Sharon, the year I was born, Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons had a number one hit with “Sherry”. My parents liked the song so much, I became Shari (same name, different spelling). And this name stuck. I was Shari until I got married!
Nicknames are common and are created for all sorts of reasons. Take physical characteristics. It may have been how quickly I walked with my arms glued to my sides when I was 10 years old that earned me the name Penguin. I’m no longer called Penguin (at least not to my face), but I am told I still “walk with a purpose”.
Sometimes a name just lends itself to something shorter. In high school our Phys Ed teachers called us by our last names, but since Supranowicz is a mouthful, four syllables in all, they decided to refer to me as… Supey. Yes, Supey. Can you imagine being called that for three years…in gym class no less? There’s absolutely nothing even slightly athletic about the name Supey. Ugh!
By far, the “alias” that I’ve had the longest is Noop. This came about out of necessity really. After living in a one-bedroom apartment for a couple years, Robert and I bought a two-story house. It wasn’t so easy to see and talk to each other as it was before. So Noop – short for Snoopy – a beagle – our favorite breed of dog – became a “locator” of sorts. When Robert came home or needed to get my attention, he’d simply sent out a “NOOP!” This name has come in handy in hundreds of situations. Once with friends in Lake Tahoe, I got turned around in a sea of skiers and when one of them called out “Noop” I was found.
On vacation recently, we met a family and introductions were made. When one of the women heard my first name she told us she has a sister named Karen. She said because of the negativity associated with that name lately, they decided to do as the British do. That is, drop the end of her name and add a “z”. So Karen has become Kaz. This woman then announced that my name was no longer going to be Sharon. For the rest of the trip, she said, I was to be known as “Shaz”!
Earned or given, nicknames can make us feel special, like when my dad called me SharBear. Sobriquets can also signify an emotional connection and intimacy with another person. Doll Face was what my mother-in-law called me for all the years I knew her. Nicknames can even highlight a quality or something we enjoy. PenWiz was a name a friend came up with years ago when she learned of my life-long love of writing.
Like Supey, there are few other nicknames I have not regarded with affection. In middle school I was called “FiFi” a popular poodle name given to me by two neighborhood boys “Herman” and “Ike”. Why? I’ll never know. Or the name Bellhead because my hair used to form a perfect bell shape until I had it cut differently. Still, all of the names attached to me over the years have allowed me to appreciate the times, the places, and especially, the people behind them.